Kindness in a Touch
“There’s gotta be a better way to go to the bathroom.”
I laughed when the guy sitting next to me at the Michael W. Smith concert last night said this to me. It was about ten minutes before the show was scheduled to start and the guy’s brother had just mumbled about the difficulty of getting out of the row prior to “trying.” I was by myself, happily content looking through the Alaska cruise brochure ushers handed out upon entrance to the symphony hall. However, it had already been quite a full day for me. I drove alone four hours from Nashville, then went Christmas shopping at the American Girl store before finding time for dinner at the hotel. I didn’t want to admit it, because I was happy to be at the concert, but I was tired. And feeling rather conspicuous, being by myself in a venue in which practically no one else was alone. Perhaps that’s why I leaped at the chance to converse when the man made the comment. All I know is, it probably contributed to his feeling comfortable enough to do something later on in the show that really meant a lot to me, so it became important.
“I mean,” he went on, “really, to get out of this row, we have to ask 22 people to move.” He was right. Our seats, 23 and 24 respectively, were right in the middle of the aisles in which there were about 40 seats. I smiled, shrugged and said, “I mean, we should totally think of a new plan to submit to rectify the problem.” He shook his head, looked up to the ceiling and said, “A crane might block other people’s view. And it would be loud, I guess.” I laughed out loud and offered, “What about a trap door below our feet? The seats could have a button and if you needed to go to the bathroom, you could push it and a trap door could open up. To make it even cooler, you’d slide down it and land right at the bathroom and a special, small-sized elevator would bring you back so that you wouldn’t miss as much of the concert.” He laughed. “That’s a million dollar contract if you can make it happen, right there.” The man’s companion, who I learned through chit-chat was his brother, returned from his journey to the bathroom and they began talking to one another.
I returned to perusing the brochure and wondering if I could possibly manage to scrape up $5,000 for the girls and I to go on a cruise with MWS this coming Summer. Soon, I put the brochure away as the theater lights dimmed. The show was starting.
Last night was not my first time to see Michael W. Smith. In fact, I’ve seen him about three times, and have a ticket to see him again in a week. I’m not a “groupie.” Although I admire his passion, charisma, talent and genuine nature, it’s not really the man I go to see. I see Michael W. Smith whenever I can because despite the strong facade, despite the trademark smile, there’s a deep desire in my heart to feel…. safe. And loved. I’m not the first to seek those things, and I’m not the last. Frankly, I’d wager all of us long for the exact same thing to some degree most of our lives. But I live a really, really solitary, alienated life; I talk mostly to children. The things I fear, the things I admire, the things that I need and hope for…. these words have nowhere to go, so they stay unsaid. I hold on, cling tightly, to stability and familiarity. I don’t step off the sidewalk. I’ve spent my entire life doing things “the right way.” And sometimes I’m so good at pushing through, at being strong, that I start doubting it’s even possible to love me. Before you brush that off as a self-pitying kind of sentiment, really. I read an article recently that basically said if you were thirty and unmarried, something must be wrong with you. It’s point was to force self-reflection and make the reader question whether or not h/she was really “trying.” This made me feel like dating is some sort of game in which the object is to “try other people on for size.” If they don’t work out, toss them. The very thought fills my entire core with bone-chilling fear because, frankly, I just don’t work that way. Forgetting people is really, really hard for me. Losing someone I love is traumatic. Anyway, before I fall into that rabbit hole, bottom line is…it’s easy for me to believe I’m rather unlovable because, well, I’ve never really been loved, despite putting my heart into someone else’s hands more than once. If men can’t love me, men who are flawed themselves with pasts as tattered and dysfunctional as mine, then, really, I’d be pretty naive to expect an all-perfect God to want me near.
In addition to all of this, sometimes I forget that it’s not my job to protect God. That’s ridiculous, isn’t it? I know it is. I’m just a mortal human, un-endowed with any special characteristics. However, you’d be surprised by how many times I’ve told Him “I’m okay.” I don’t like asking for things in my prayers because I know full well I don’t deserve any favors. It’s not that I don’t know He already knows what I need, what I want, or how I feel. It’s more that I just can’t ask for things. Perhaps this is why it’s difficult for me to feel covered with protection. It’s difficult for me to feel permission to just…. feel. Feeling, in my world, is dangerous. You love…. and you get burned. You hurt…. and you get scarred. Michael W. Smith’s performances have a way of guiding me to a place where not only do I know God is there, but He’s not disgusted, angry or aloof. Rather, He’s warm and compassionate and, quite simply, envelopes me. It really isn’t the performance, then, so much as it is the worship. It makes me feel protected, safe and loved. It makes me remember that I don’t have to protect Him…. because He does already know. And, despite already knowing, He’s hanging around, anyway. I inevitably cry at Michael W. Smith concerts. When the air fills with warmth so thick it’s almost tangible and a presence is there…. and, for once, nothing is being asked of me. It’s that sweet place where you just feel…. welcomed.
I forgot I was alone.
And that’s a big deal.
When he sang a song whose very first line is, “There’s strength in the sorrow and beauty in the tears.,” I started crying. The tears kept coming as he went into “Healing Rain” and then into the most beautiful, inspiring version of “Amazing Grace” that I have ever heard. By the time “Amazing Grace” started, everyone was on their feet. Our hands were in the air and we were all singing. Except me. Because I had a palm over my mouth, tears flowing from my eyes. Because it is okay to cry. And it is okay to not to be strong. As if I needed further proof of that, the man with whom I had joked prior to the start of the show, realized I was crying. I wasn’t the only one. Frankly, I doubt there was a dry eye in the house by the end of “Amazing Grace.” Nothing had changed. There was still nothing extraordinary about me, and also nothing extraordinary about the myriad of reasons that prompted the tears in the first place. Lots of people are alone. Lots of people have similar backgrounds. Lots of people are far worse off than me. I am currently writing a book about human trafficking in which an eleven-year-old is sold to a brothel and forced to have sex with up to sixty men a night for two years. What’s really sad is that the torture inflicted on my character is not made up; it’s happening tonight all over the world, including America. A ridiculous political commentator in the U.S. compared rape to filibusters today. The earth has been in existence for millions of years and rape has been happening since the beginning and yet we can’t even get an accurate count of how often it’s happening on our land. The paltry emotions I experience these days….. loneliness, extreme fatigue, IV iron drips, self-doubt…. are just that: paltry. Be that as it may be, making light of emotion is dangerous ground. You can mock yourself dry; convince yourself you don’t have the right to “complain” and end up bottling up things that will eventually explode in one way or another. Maybe that’s what happened to me last night; maybe I just had enough of pretending to be strong when I’m not, of pretending to be “cheerful” twenty-four, seven. I just wanted a hug. I just wanted someone to tell me it was all going to work out, even though I myself wasn’t even sure what “it” was. I just wanted to be held, and rocked. Comfort. I was seeking comfort. Come to think of it, it’s what I am usually seeking when I find myself at a Michael W. Smith concert.
As I said, the nameless man who sat beside me realized I was crying and he put a hand on my back, between my shoulders. I turned my head to look at him, swiping tears as I did. He smiled; instead of removing his hand, he rubbed small circles where his hand was, between my shoulder blades. And he kept his hand there for several minutes, until the song was over. He still does not know my name, or anything about me. It wasn’t even a hug. But it felt like one. Instead of running from a display, however subtle it may have been, of emotion, he ran to it. I said nothing, dried my eyes and sang along. But even after the show was over, I could feel his hand on my back. Comfort, you see, is a breath of fresh air. It revitalizes a wearied heart just as effectively as Tylenol relieves a fever. When you feel cared for, you’re able to gather up another dose of courage with which to face the world. When belief in human kind is restored, hope flies high in the throat. And it has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with chemistry or romance. Instead, it has everything to do with kindness and compassion. Many of my problems navigate back to the fear of touch. I am terrified of it, not only because of the physical pain I know it can bring but also because of the emotional bankruptcy it can throw your heart into. I’d rather not be touched at all forevermore than to be touched by someone who doesn’t really care who he’s touching. I’d rather not be touched at all than feel like an object even once more. And sometimes my outlook on touch is critical, to say the least. But, every once in awhile, someone reaches out and the nerve endings in my skin leap. Not because of a romantic overtone but rather because, every so often, touch is the conduit for real strength; yea, even hope.
After the concert was over, the nameless Good Samaritan turned away from me, waiting for the 20 other people in our row to walk so that he could leave. Behind him, I stood, staring at his back. He’d reacted; he hadn’t over-thought it, that simple act of human decency he did by offering a small amount of comfort to someone he didn’t know. Yet, here I was, thinking of all the multitude of “socially accepted” reasons I should let it go. But I couldn’t. So, I reached out and touched his back. He turned his head and, smiling, I said softly, “Just wanted to say thank you.” I didn’t say what for, and he didn’t ask. Instead, he smiled again and winked. “Have a good night and a Happy Thanksgiving.”
And so I shall, with a renewed sense of hope, grace and comfort.